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The Forest Preserve District of Cook County encompasses nearly 70,000 acres. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

The recommended 2022 budget will keep the doors open and the lights on, but doesn’t make a dent in the district’s $64 million in unfunded maintenance, pension obligations or goal to acquire more land. For those resources, the district is pinning its hopes on an upcoming property tax referendum.

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If marsh birds like the pied-billed grebe, pictured, return to Powderhorn Lake, conservationists will judge the wetlands restoration a success. (simardfrancois / Pixabay)

A wetlands restoration project is underway at Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve in the Calumet region, where construction of a human-made water control device will recreate a more natural system of drainage.

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One of the 2020 photo contest winners, taken at Oak Forest Heritage Preserve. (Credit: Sharon Dobben)

Dig those images of flowers, birds and trees out of the iCloud and enter them in the forest preserve district’s annual photo contest. Winning images will be featured in the district’s 2022 calendar. 

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Chicago as seen from the International Space Station. The Palos Preserves Urban Night Sky Place is outlined in green. (Courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center)

Palos Preserves has been named an Urban Night Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. The site emits nearly 1,000 times less light than downtown Chicago, with four times as many stars visible in the night sky than can be seen in the city.

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Spring Lake Forest Preserve, Cook County. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

How much is nature worth? The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is about to find out. The district’s board of commissioners has thrown its support behind a proposal for a ballot referendum that would put a property tax increase for the preserves directly in the hands of voters.

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"Demand Justice" sculpture in Grant Park. Artist Maxwell Emcays will talk about his inspiration and Juneteenth, June 19, 2021. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)

Green spaces across the Chicago area will serve as the backdrop for a number of Juneteenth celebrations this weekend, from live music and dance to discussions about the new federal holiday.

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Liam Durnan hikes in Cook County’s Spring Lake Nature Preserve. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Liam Durnan has been on a yearlong caper, hiking all 350 miles of Cook County forest preserve trails. “When people picture the forest preserve nearest them, most people think of it being the picnic groves,” he said. “They don’t know how big this thing is. It’s just incredible.”

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Legend has it that ramps, growing wild in forests, are the “stinky onion” that gave Chicago its name. (Moira Gibson / Pixabay)

It’s illegal to forage in Cook County forest preserves. Every year, 100 citations are issued for poaching, a significant number of which involve ramps, the wild leek that gave Chicago its name.

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Vivid blue-green plumage and an unmistakable bright red bill are hallmarks of the male broad-billed hummingbird. (Courtesy of Nathan Goldberg)

Chicago birdwatchers were treated to a rare glimpse of a wayward hummingbird at LaBagh Wood, far beyond its normal range of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Virginia bluebells are among the spring ephemerals blooming thanks to forest preserve restoration work. (Cindy Parks / Pixabay)

At numerous natural areas across the forest preserve district, low-lying “spring ephemeral” plants are flowering in the kind of sunlight they haven’t enjoyed in decades, thanks to ecological restoration projects.

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Cook County Forest Preserves naturalist Ryan DePauw holds a great horned owl, the largest owl found in the region, at the River Trail Nature Center on Feb. 18, 2021. (WTTW News)

Animals that wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild are getting the care they need, and are helping educate the public, at five forest preserve nature centers around Cook County. But during COVID-19, people aren’t allowed to go inside these centers, so the animals and their caretakers reach out virtually.

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The Lost Beach Trail at Sand Ridge Nature Center leads to a view of an ancient shoreline. (Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

An ancient sand ridge in the Calumet region became a well-worn route used by enslaved people seeking freedom.

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Show appreciation for nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (photoforyou / Pixabay)

The Cook County Forest Preserves are encouraging people to give back to nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Head out on a self-led litter cleanup hike at one of the preserves’ nature centers or Dan Ryan Woods.

Here’s where to see this raucous beauty near Chicago

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A male pileated woodpecker, distinguished from a female by the red stripe on his cheek. (Veronica Andrews / Pixabay)

With its flaming red crest and distinctive cackle, the pileated woodpecker is a favorite of birders, not least because it resembles Woody Woodpecker. Though sightings have been rare in urban areas, they can be found in the Chicago region’s forest preserves.

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(Jerzy Górecki / Pixabay)

On the first day of winter, Cook County officials touted the benefits of spending time in nature, encouraging people to discover the nearly 70,000 acres of forest preserves this season — safely.

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People dump everything, including the kitchen sink, in Cook County's forest preserves. (Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County)

Fly dumping, or the illegal dumping of waste, was already a problem at the preserves, but it’s gotten worse in 2020, according to officials.